eHealth and public health – a beautiful marriage

HIMSS-CHIME International

Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, delivered an inspirational speech to open eHealth Week in Malta on 10–12 May 2017. This marked the first time that WHO/Europe participated in organizing the annual event. It did so alongside the Maltese Ministry for Health, the European Commission and HIMSS-CHIME International, a partnership of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society and the College of Health Information Management Executives.

Dr Jakab cut the ribbon at the event’s opening ceremony alongside Dr Vytenis Andriukaitis, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety of the European Commission. In the keynote speech that followed, she described the collaboration of eHealth and public health in the WHO European Region as “a beautiful marriage”, and eHealth Week as “a celebration of our commitment and dedication to reaping the benefits of eHealth for all”.
The marriage analogy became a common theme throughout eHealth Week, alluded to by a number of speakers. Dr Jakab also emphasized the importance of eHealth to universal health coverage and to achieving equity in health. The full text of the Regional Director’s speech can be read on her webpage.

With the theme of “Data for health: the key to personalized sustainable care”, eHealth Week highlighted the impact that data has on individual health. As an organizer for eHealth Week, WHO/Europe’s eHealth and Innovation Unit within the Division of Information, Evidence, Research and Innovation contributed to the programme and delivered a number of public health-focused sessions at the conference.

Protected yet accessible data

Participants explored the week’s theme through a variety of public health and technically focused sessions. They examined eHealth security and data protection through the European Commission’s General Data Protection Regulation, and discussed how health care organizations can better protect their critical systems.

Sessions also focused on the role of patients, clinicians, mobile health and social media in health, highlighting the need to access and share health information securely while keeping the individual in focus. This led to a lively debate on citizen access and portability across borders.

A showcase displayed the insights that can be gained by applying big data techniques to improve health system performance. This was accompanied by a demonstration of WHO/Europe’s role in assisting Member States through the European Health Information Initiative (EHII). EHII uses eHealth to help reform national health information systems and leverage evidence in developing effective health policy.

A revealing and thought-provoking perspective was also presented on the impact of digital health on the development of children and adolescents. This was highlighted as an area in need of an increased public health focus.

Sessions led by WHO/Europe at eHealth Week 2017 included:

  • This time it’s personal! Data management and analytics towards personalized medicine and improved public health policy;
  • Improving the effectiveness, safety and privacy of mobile health;
  • Child’s play: using digital technologies to influence children’s behaviours; and
  • Health information and eHealth landscapes: bridging the gap.

The sessions featured experts from WHO partner organizations and key stakeholders in the Region, such as universities and public health institutions.

Reflecting on eHealth Week, Dr Claudia Stein, Director of the Division of Information, Evidence, Research and Innovation, said: “Our Regional Director made a very good point in her speech when she said that eHealth and public health need each other. Today, it is no longer possible to envisage public health without eHealth. eHealth Week 2017 was indeed a time of inspiration and mutual support and a celebration of our commitment and dedication to reaping the benefits of eHealth for all.”